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Instructional Leader
Close Reading
The Common Core State Standards have brought
new attention to a long-respected and valuable
reading strategy called close reading.
Nancy Frey and Douglas Fisher
here are a host of different ways
to engage students in reading,
including instructional routines
that require extensive teacher support,
such as shared readings, and instructional routines that require extensive
peer support, such as reciprocal teaching or literature circles. The Common
Core State Standards have drawn
increased attention to an instructional
routine called close reading, known in
some circles as analytic reading.
Close reading is not a new instructional routine; it has existed for many
decades as the practice of reading a
text for a level of detail not used in everyday reading (Richards, 1929). Close
readings should be done with texts
that are worthy and complex enough
to warrant repeated r­ eading and
detailed investigation. (See January
2012 column for a discussion about
text complexity.) As Newkirk (2010)
noted, not all texts demand this level
of attention, but some texts do.
In close reading, the reader has to
develop a fairly sophisticated understanding of what the author actually
said. The problem, as described by advocates of close reading, is that students
are encouraged to answer questions
that too soon take them away from
the reading to their own experiences.
Instead, as Rosenblatt (1995) recommended, there must be a transaction
between the reader and the text. Readers should develop an understanding of
the author’s words and bring their own
experiences, beliefs, and ideas to bear
on the text. In her words, “The reader
must remain faithful to the author’s
text and must be alert to the potential
clues concerning character and motive”
(p. 11). Rosenblatt cautioned that readers might ignore elements in a text and
fail to realize that they are “imputing
to the author views unjustified by the
text” (p. 11).
Teaching Close Reading
If students already knew how to do
this, then we would not be spending time focused on close reading.
The problem is that students do not
arrive at school already knowing how
to interrogate a text and dig down
to its deeper meaning. Teachers have
to teach students how to do this in
both informational and literary texts.
In other words, close readings are
not the pervue of English teachers;
close readings should be conducted
in any class in which texts play a role,
whether it is science, social studies,
auto mechanics, art, or physical education. The video that accompanies
this column features a social studies
teacher using a close reading approach to investigate a primary source
document. Close readings have a few
Douglas Fisher ([email protected])
is a professor of teacher education at
San Diego State University and a teacher
leader at Health Sciences High and
Middle College in San Diego, CA.
Nancy Frey ([email protected]) is a
professor of teacher education at San
Diego State University and a teacher
leader at Health Sciences High and
Middle College.
They are the authors, with Diane Lapp,
of Teaching Students to Read Like
Detectives (2012, Solution Tree).
Watch the Video
Watch the video for close
reading strategies.
January 2013 | Principal Leadership 57
Instructional Leader
factors in common, including the following items.
Short, worthy passages. Because
close readings can be time-consuming,
it is often best to select shorter pieces
of text for instruction. Those selections, typically between three and nine
paragraphs, allow students to practice
the analytic skills required of sophisticated readers. Longer, extended texts
are often used to encourage students
to practice the skills that they have
been taught during close readings.
The practice of rereading. As part
of a close reading, students must read
and reread the selected text several
times. This requires students to expand their purposes for each repeated
reading. Subsequent readings can be
completed independently, with peers,
with teacher read-alouds, or any combination of those approaches.
Annotation. Readers who take the
time to really read and investigate a
text take notes right on the text. They
“read with a pencil” so that they can
make notes about their understandings or quickly find evidence when
they need it. Adler and Van Doren
(1940/1972) identified why annotation is so important:
Why is marking a book indispensable to reading it? First, it
keeps you awake—not merely
conscious, but wide awake.
Second, reading, if active, is
thinking, and thinking tends to
express itself in words, spoken
or written. The person who
says he knows what he thinks
but cannot express it usually
does not know what he thinks.
Third, writing your reactions
down helps you remember the
thoughts of the author (p. 49).
Annotations include the follow58 Principal Leadership | January 2013
ing types of marks in a text (we will
focus on teaching annotation in next
month’s column):
n Underline the major points.
n Circle keywords or phrases that
are confusing or unknown to you.
n Use a question mark for questions
that you have during the reading.
Be sure to write your question.
n Use an exclamation mark for
things that surprise you, and briefly note what it was that caught
your attention.
n Draw an arrow when you make
a connection to something inside
the text or to an idea or experience outside the text. Briefly note
your connections.
n Write EX when the author provides an example.
n Numerate arguments, important
ideas, or key details, and write
words or phrases that restate them.
Text-dependent questions. As
part of every close reading, students
respond to text-dependent questions
that require them to provide evidence from the text, rather than their
own experiences. As we described in
the September 2012 column, there
are ways to create text-dependent
questions, and they do not have to be
recall and regurgitation questions.
After-reading tasks that require
students to use information from the
text. Rather than take students away
from the text, postreading activities
as part of close reading should require
that the student return to the text.
For example, students may write an
argumentative piece in which they use
evidence from the text and other texts;
engage in a Socratic seminar; or debate
a topic. After-reading tasks should help
students consolidate the meaning of
texts and deepen their comprehension
far beyond what they would be able to
accomplish on their own.
A Close Reading Example
Middle school English teacher Armando Perez asks his students to read
“Eleven,” a short story by Sandra Cisneros. He points out that they are still
exploring the inner lives of characters
and how those inner lives compare
with the lives that others can see. The
students read the text independently,
making notes as they do so. One
student, Fernando, underlines several
places in the text and circles two
places. Following their independent
reading, Perez reads the text aloud
to students, pausing to think aloud
in three places that seemed to have
caused confusion for his students. He
knew that because he had observed
them as they annotated the text and
could thus target his modeling on
areas of confusion.
At one point, he pauses and says,
“They have a lot of years and numbers in this text, but this says that the
sweater is maybe 1,000 years old. I’m
having a hard time believing that. I’m
thinking that if it really were 1,000
years old, it would be in a museum.
I’m thinking that this is an example of
hyperbole that is being used to make
a point.” Following his modeling,
Perez asks his students to explore a
couple of questions, including, “How
is age like an onion, at least according to the author?” and “Why does
she start crying when she has to wear
the sweater?” As the students talk
with one another about those questions, they refer back to the text to
locate specific information for their
Next, Perez asks students to talk
with their team members about the
character Rachel’s inner life saying,
“From what the author tells us, what
is going on inside Rachel when her
teacher says that the sweater has to
belong to someone?” The students are
to focus on the words that Rachel uses
to describe herself, such as skinny, and
how the author refers to her “little
voice.” A student in the class says, “I
don’t think Rachel has confidence because she stumbles on her answer to
the teacher, and then it says that she’s
feeling like she is three again.”
Perez continues inviting arguments, with evidence, as students
reread the text looking for examples.
They discuss the text within their
groups and periodically are invited
to share with the whole class. After
they have read the text at least four
times, Perez asks his students to use
their annotations to describe the inner
life of one of the characters in the
short story. He says, “You might select
­Rachel, but alternatively you could
select Mrs. Price or Sylvia or even
Phyllis. Just remember to describe the
character’s inner life using evidence
provided from the text.” As the students get to work, Perez meets with
several who have struggled with tasks
like this in the past to make sure that
they are starting on the right track.
and independent readings, close readings will give students the experiences
they need to become skilled in analytic
reading, a prerequisite for college and
career success. PL
n Adler, M. J., & Van Doren, C.
Close readings are an important component of reading instruction, but they
are not the only instructional routine
that students need to use to become
successful readers. As an instructional
leader, you must ensure that students
are engaged in reading texts that are
worthy of their time. You also must
ensure that students investigate the
text sufficiently to really develop an
appropriate level of understanding.
Combined with shared, collaborative,
(1940/1972). How to read a book. New
York, NY: Touchstone.
n Newkirk, T. (2010). The case for slow
reading. Educational Leadership, 67(6),
n Richards, I. A. (1929). Practical criticism.
London, England: Cambridge University
n Rosenblatt, L. M. (1995). Literature
as exploration (5th ed.). New York, NY:
­Modern Language Association.
January 2013 | Principal Leadership 59